KENILWORTH, N.J. — The archbishop of Newark said it was a “very difficult decision” not to allow two sisters to return to their Catholic school in New Jersey after a dispute over one of them wanting to play on the boys’ basketball team.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin on Thursday testified he decided not to allow 13-year-old Sydney Phillips and her younger sister, Kaitlyn, to re-enroll because their parents’ behavior was not in the best interest of St. Theresa School in Kenilworth.

A judge had denied the family’s attempt to get Sydney on the boys’ team after the girls’ team was canceled. The girls were expelled last winter after their family sued. The parents are now seeking a court order to allow the girls to return in the fall.

Tobin, who became archbishop in January, said he was surprised by the school’s decision and pushed for the girls to be allowed back. However, he said the situation had “deteriorated” since the girls were re-admitted in the spring.

“I felt the aggression of the parents was seriously inhibiting the school from realizing its mission,” Tobin said.

Tobin said he was not aware of claims of bullying and sexual harassment toward Sydney Phillips when he approved a recommendation not to let the girls re-enroll in the fall. He was also not aware of a press release about the family that was posted in and around the school and placed in student’s backpacks.

Lawyers for the archdiocese and for the family accused each party of bullying and harassment.

Tobin said the lawsuit is not about basketball, but the “tranquility of the scholastic community” at the Catholic school.

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